DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Impact of Social Media on Journalism

from left, Johnson, Augenstein, Beaujon, and Bond
In his early years as a radio reporter in Washington, DC, Neal Augenstein had to carry an arsenal of news gathering tools with him: a tape recorder, a computer, a phone. But in 2010, Augenstein drastically changed his news gathering - he decided to do all his field reporting on an iPhone.

"I was always juggling all these devices. I was looking for a way to speed up the news gathering process. I found I could do it all on a single device," Augenstein says.

WTOP reporter Augenstein was joined by Poynter Online media reporter Andrew Beaujon and Newseum program producer Frank Bond at the Newseum recently for a wide-ranging discussion of how social media such as Twitter and Facebook is impacting journalism.

All 3 agreed that speed of reporting is probably the biggest change. A tweet is virtually instantaneous. "In the old days you would wait for the whole story until you reported it," Augenstein said. Now, however, many stories begin with a tweeted lead and then are fleshed over subsequent filings. A typical listener might be alerted by a tweet, then turn to the radio or TV for information and then finally to a computer article or newspaper account for more detail.

Beaujon said news organizations are using social media in 2 very different ways. They are using Twitter and other techniques to broadcast what they are doing. But they are also using those same ways to listen to their audience and respond more directly to them. With social media, news organizations are "a lot more in touch" with their readers, Beaujon contended.

"I think Twitter is as important as the wires (services like AP and UPI) that newsrooms used to follow," Beaujon said.

He added that with the quick feedback offered by social media, reporters are notified much more rapidly when they have made a mistake in a story. "You learn about your errors very quickly. It's best if an organization just says 'yeah, we messed that up' and correct it. It used to be a lot harder to do (make corrections). Now it is taking place in public," Beaujon said.

Augenstein agreed that social media allows reporters and news organizations to better "engage with the public."

"They know how to reach you at any minute," he said. "I've never felt more in touch."

Bond said the idea of the public being able to take pictures (often referred to as twit pix) has altered reporting and publishing. Now, you no longer need to have a journalist present to document news. He pointed out that the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy, which was captured by the famous Zapruder film, was probably the greatest historic example of "citizen journalism." Thirty years later you had public video of the Rodney King beating. Today, with most everyone carrying a cell phone equipped with a camera and with video capability, that process is even easier.

"As the tech comes into the hands of the citizens, the relationship (between audience and media) has to change," Bond said. "But it still takes professionals to put news in context."

All 3 cautioned that sources still needed to be verified and unchecked reports can lead to problems such as  what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Area tweeters tweeted wrong information, some of which was reported by the media as fact.

However, all 3 journalists said they believe that social media is more helpful than harmful. "Shaking the castle walls has been pretty positive for journalists. We were too isolated. Information has moved into the cloud and people expect and demand accuracy," Beaujon said. :I'm all for blurring the lines."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
It was a 1st for the Newseum at the social media discussion. The talk was moderated by Kelley Johnson, a student at School Without Walls in D.C. Ms. Johnson, who is planning to study political science and communications in college, is a member of the student advisory board who helps the Newseum plan exhibitions and programs. "We ask their opinions. They give us feedback and we incorporate that into the program. As part of her school assignment, Ms. Johnson is actually writing a 15-page paper on the impact of social media on journalism. She asked Bond, who is mentoring her, if she could do more. So she was chosen to moderate the program. And how did she do. Well, as a former teacher I would have to give her an A. And as a former journalist I believe she can have a promising career in journalism if that is the path she chooses.

Blog Archive

Popular Posts